The Public Service Commissions of the country are statutory institutions functioning with autonomy like Election Commission and Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG). PSC were directly constituted as enshrined by the constitutio, as opposed to through legislation by the parliament or state legislative assemblies. Behind this concept is the long-term vision of the architects of the constitution that a special mechanism independent of the executive is required to carry out the task assigned to it fairly and impartially. As the recruiting agency for government and government-controlled organizations, the role of PSC is pivotal in determing the destiny of the country. It is in recognition of this function that this institution is put under such an autonomous category. For this very reason, its uniqueness to be religiously protected.
Unfortunately, even Kerala PSC- deemed to be the mostly efficiently functioning one in the country - is in the doldrums, as news emanating from there reveal. The stabbing case at University College, Thiruvananthapuram has now culminated in a new episode with rotten stories of PSC. The internal vigilance of PSC discovered serious malpactices in the test for recruitment to the post of civil police officer committed by former SFI leaders, who are the accused in the stabbing case. Following this, PSC had to temporarily freeze appointments based on the rank list for seven police battalions. With the confirmation that these candidates had received answers in text messages to questions via their mobile phones, PSC has decided to probe the phone call details of all in the top 100 ranks. This means that serious lapses have happened in the operation of this statutory body and that its credibility has suffered a serious beating.
The scope of work of Kerala PSC is wide and hence Keralites’ insistence that all appointments in public bodies should be through it. Thus, as in several other sectors, there is a ‘Kerala model’ in public service commissions too. However, over the last decade and a half, seriouss blots on the reputation of this ‘Kerala Model’have been reported several times. In 2003, 36 candidates got appointment with the help of leaked question papers for LD Clerk tests in Kottayam. Despite eight candidates making confessions before Crime Branch, the government got the enquiry stopped through a court order. The enquiry was overturned with the plea that PSC has its own mechanism to making such enquiries. The government also contended that enquiry by an external agency like the Crime Branch would affect the credibility of PSC. Now when PSC’s name was raised in the incident of University College again, those concerned put forward the same justification.
Many including the chief minister said that raising unwarranted questions about PSC would deprive PSC of its credibility. When controversy arose following the sabotage of 2013 under cover of weightage marks, and the correction of notification after conducting recruitment test in 2014, the authorities gave the same excuse. Candidates do raise many other complaints too related to question papers. An example is the cancellation of the test for recruitment to junior higher secondary teacher in Economics, following complains that many of the questions in it were a copy of the question bank of some coaching centres. But when the test was conducted again in 2018, the mistake was repeated. These are telling examples of the ‘vigilance’ of PSC in preparing question papers and in the conduct of tests.
These are times when the people count more on PSC. The number of applicants is significantly on the rise. In 2008, 17.42 lakh people applied for PSC tests and 25,762 candidates nominated for appointment. In 2017, the number of applicants reached 1.71 crore and appointment was given only to 35,911 persons. In other words, although the number of applicants increased six fold, proportionate number of appointments were not made. It may not be feasible either. But at the same time, PSC is duty bound to make appointments transparent and impartial. The crux of the problem is that instead of fulfilling obligations, the bureaucratic lobby that is deeply immersed in partly politics and favouritism, has been committing serious dereliction of duty. In other words, the trouble makers are the very people inside the institution who have the oblligation to protect its credibility. After all, the reason behind Kerala – that had set a model in education and health sectors – later lagging behind, is internal bickering among bureaucrats and corruption. The case of PSC is no different. The way to shore up PSC is to evolve a transparent testing system and to hand over its stewardship to people without political affiliations. Instead of that, if attempts are made to muzzle those who raise questions, it will only expedite the destruction of this statutory institution.